Monday, December 29, 2008

Into Tanzania (Dec. 15/08 - Iringa, Tanzania)

Today we broke two records: earliest wake-up call yet (3:30am!) and longest drive yet (600km!). It was a long day. Luckily, everyone is so proficient at packing up camp that we were pulling out right on time at 4:30am. The sun came up slowly over the Mozambique mountains to the east as we drove north in the dark - but I only noticed the sunrise briefly, jostled awake by a bump, as we were all asleep. The Tanzania border crossing wasn't even officially open yet when we got there at 6:30am, so it was a bit of a process to get all the forms filled out in the dark. And just when we thought we were almost ready to go, our system failed us. Normally, we have one person stay on the truck to guard our stuff while everyone else goes in to clear customs. When the first person is through, they go back to the truck to let that other person go. Well today Shawn offered to stay in the truck, and presumably he sat ther and watched 13 of us file into the very obvious looking building to clear customs on the Malawi side. He definitely saw us come out, as I was the first one out and saw him watching us leave the building and walk toward the truck. When I got on, he left. The other 12 people eventually finished and came back to the truck. Five minutes passed until someone ased where Shawn was. So someone went backto see what what taking so long, but he wasn't there. They check the washroom too - not there either. There was nowhere else to go! A few more people joined in the search but came back empty handed. The only possibility was that he walked up to the giant gate at the border guarded by armed soldiers, somehow got them to let him through, walk across the bridge, and go into the Tanzanian immigration building on the other side. Suprise surprise, that's exactly what he did. We were dumbfounded (pun intended). Of course now he is told that he actually skipped the Malawi border, as he didn't get an exit stamp. So he had to walk back over the bridge and through the gate to re-exit Malawi. He's lucky, because that could have been a serious mistake to some grumpy official with a big gun. Anyway, we eventually made it into Tanzania, officially. All of us!

The landscape was beautiful - lush green hills dotted with homes and woven into a patchwork of maize and cassava fields, with the larger flat fields housing crops of tea plants and even stands of eucalyptus trees and rubber trees. Now and then, you could see buckets hung from the latter, gathering the syrup that is used to make rubber. Banana plantations were everywhere too, and in the towns you would see mountains of green bananas piled up for sale. Hours later, we pulled over at a viewpoint down onto the town of Mbeya, where we made a quick stop to get money and for Francis to buy some fresh mangoes, bananas, and papayas. We continued northeast, and soon we were out of the highlands and onto lower rolling land that grew more eucalyptus, maize, and cassava. Also of not was the "Florida Beach Grocery Store" in one tiny town and a painted mural of Mr. Bean on the side of a house in another.

Late afternoon, we pulled into Kizolonza Farm House, a lovely quiet campsite south of the town Iringa. The air was surprisingly cool due to the moderate elevation (1700m), and the place was fabulous - nice warm, clean showers and a thatched gazebo hut that housed a bar suited perfectly to Indiana Jones. As a treat, Francis had arranged for us to sample the local fare (again!) in the restaurant. It was so good - even though we think she just didn't want to cook! The original mud brick walls of the farm owner's house had been topped with a high thatched room and decorated with long wooden tables draped with colourful African linens. We were treated to carrot and cardamom soup, spicy meatballs, sauteed spinach, bean stew, and ugali - the African staple - maizemeal cooked to the consistency of mashed potatoes. It was a wonderful taste of Tanzania and just what we needed to cushion the blow of Raymond's announcement - we were leaving at 4:30am again tomorrow morning! Ugh!

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